Last Thursday (May 12) nurses all over the world celebrated International Nurses Day and at Somerset Hospital there was an overwhelming air of gratitude following the recent killing of three people at the Green Point hospital.
A former policeman, Jean-Paul Malgas, 39, who was a patient at Somerset, shot and killed three men including a police officer, Constable Donay Phillips, 32, last Saturday (May 7).
The motive for the killing is unknown but it is believed that Constable Phillips was at the hospital guarding a patient. He looked into a commotion in a nearby ward and was disarmed and shot by Mr Malgas.
The operations manager at Somerset Hospital, Sister Diane Seale, started her shift on Saturday evening when the call came through about the shooting on the second floor. She says that she has never experienced such an ordeal in her 43 years of nursing.
“When I exited the lift I saw a policeman lying on the floor in a pool of blood and I thought the worst. Then I saw a patient with a gun in his hand pointing it at me. I approached him, told him to shhhh and I hugged him, he allowed me into his space,” Sister Seale says.
At this stage Sister Seale was alone with the gunman who asked her to close the door while they spoke for 40 minutes; she says she felt comfortable in his presence as he lowered the gun.
“We spoke about anything and everything, he allowed me to hug him and several times I asked him to put the gun down. I assured him that I will stay with him until the end and he asked me to take him out, and by that I understood he wanted me to sedate him,” she said.
Sister Seale collected a sedative injection from a nearby office and saw that the police were ready to enter the cubicle where the gunman was, she asked them to stand back while she went back in the cubicle to sedate Mr Malgas.
“I tried to loosen his gown to give him the injection but it was knotted, it was tied too tightly. I told him I need to inject in his arm and he lifted the gown from his arm, because I couldn’t, and then I injected him. I held him and asked him to lie on the bed because I did not want him to fall off.
“I could feel how he was going into the sedation phase and when I took his hand he grabbed at mine and I told him I am here, I comforted him. After a while he dozed off and I decided to tiptoe out of the cubicle.”
She then asked the tactical team to step in and they did so cautiously while Sister Seale turned to her colleagues for comfort.
“They (hospital staff) kept me going. I’m so grateful for working with people like this, I’m never alone. Whether it’s management or my fellow sisters, they always have my back, we have each others’ back, that’s how we work at Somerset,” she said.
Salama Basardien, head of nursing at Somerset, confirmed the camaraderie at the hospital and says nurses work tirelessly with limited resources and that this day is an acknowledgement of their hard work.
“We work tirelessly day in and day out and we see the poorest of the poor here. The pledge guides us to serve people irrespective of who they are or where they come from,” said Sister Basardien.
Sister Basardien has been working at Somerset Hospital since 1985, travelling all the way from Grassy Park to work with her fellow nursing colleagues.
“We care for one another at this institution; we all care for each other. I couldn’t ask for a better fraternity to work with. This hospital is my roots and I will retire here,” she said.
Dr Donna Stokes, chief executive officer of Somerset Hospital, has been at the hospital for 13 years and says that International Nurses Day is a day of solidarity for them.
“The dreadful incident that happened just shows you how nurses function without thought to themselves, putting their patients first, it’s in their spirit to put patients first,” said Dr Stokes.
Dr Jacques Hendricks, the clinical manager at Somerset, says that the incident at the hospital is an opportunity to improve security at the hospital.
“The portfolio committee was here and we appreciate their stance on this matter. We have to look at the operating procedure when police or correctional services come into public spaces, so we have to look deeply into these things and improve it,” said Dr Hendricks.
The portfolio committee on health had conducted an oversight visit to the hospital, during which its chairman, Dr Kenneth Jacobs said “vigorous engagements” were needed to address the issue of members of police officers entering hospitals with firearms.